How to Host a Holiday Party Everyone Remembers

A dazzling entryway can help set the mood

San Rafael’s Mimi Cunningham knows how to throw a great party — after all, they don’t call her the Party Queen for nothing. Cunningham’s background is in interior design and she cut her teeth in event planning under Solomon Rosenzweig at Event Technologies. Over the years, she has worked on prestigious events for Lucasfilm, the San Francisco Ballet and the notorious Black and White Ball, and she currently produces the opening and closing night parties for the Mill Valley Film Festival, among other local happenings. What makes a great party planner? “Creativity, organization, the ability to stay calm, treating your crew and vendors well and never thinking the party is about you,” says Cunningham. And just in time for this season of party throwing and home entertaining the Party Queen is offering some sound advice for making sure your gathering is one friends and family will remember — and talk about — for years to come. 

The Invite List

Finding the right mix of people to make a gathering successful can be tricky. But Cunningham says, “Invite people you are going to feel comfortable hanging out with. If you have many diverse groups of friends that you do not feel comfortable mixing together — don’t.” She adds, “Better to have several smaller parties with the groups you enjoy being with than having one big one that you will be nervous about.” And if you are going to throw multiple parties for different groups of friends, why not mix it up? Brunch, lunch, cocktail mixers, dinner — so many options, so little time. 

Play With Themes

Everyone loves a theme, right? Not only does it help you narrow the color scheme and menu, it definitely gives a party that extra “wow” factor. “Moroccan decor is lovely this time of year with rich jewel tones, gold beads and Moroccan lanterns. It exudes holiday festivity without being traditional,” says Cunningham, who also loves both masquerade and under-the-big-top themes. “Many times, a holiday gathering is the biggest party most will attend all year — so make it fun and nonconventional,” she says. “Guests will dress fancy or in costume even at a holiday party. Anything that lends itself to over-the-top elegance works.” 

Create a Dramatic Entryway

“A dynamic entry not only welcomes your guests and makes them feel special, it also signals, ‘there is a party here!’ And that gets the evening off to a great start,” says Cunningham. She suggests using a front gate or the walkway to the front door and incorporating plenty of festive lighting. Try using fabrics or premade curtain panels in doorways to set the mood. The entryway decor should be moody and dramatic — it’s an easy way to set the atmosphere from the minute your guests arrive. 

Don’t Forget About the Lighting

Everyone agrees: the best way to create an atmosphere for a party is with proper lighting. “The rule of thumb on good party lighting is very simple — you have to have something you are lighting,” Cunningham says. “If you place a light